There are few Chicagoans alive today who haven’t experienced the anticipation and excitement of an eight-year-old child walking into American Girl Place Chicago for the first time. Come to think of it, the adults are pretty excited too. If you’ve talked to a girl aged four to 12 in the past decade or two, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the American Girl doll phenomenon. A history teacher in Wisconsin first invented the concept of a line of historical dolls in the 1980s, and now stores have exploded across the country. But you’ve come to the right place: American Girl Place Chicago is the flagship store, and the chain’s largest.
It seems trite to call this two-story, perfectly laid out mini-village for dolls and their persons a simple store. You start on the first floor, where you find books and videos all about your child’s new American Girl friends, plus advice books for girls on all sorts of life stages: navigating friendships or making big decisions. You also spot clothing that fits not only your doll, but your child too. Many of American Girl’s clothes comes in matching sizes for dolls and their full-size counterparts.
On the second floor, you enter a world of clothes, accessories, and furniture before you walk down the European avenue that leads you past the doll hospital, the doll hair salon, and the Parisian pâtisserie. In the full-service cafe, children and their parents are invited to dine along with their dolls for brunch. You can get a full meal with family, friends, or an entire party. You’re visiting in the afternoon, so you order the fun and frilly afternoon tea service. Don’t worry about where the dolls will sit; American Girl Place Chicago even provides custom-built doll chairs.
For each of the historical dolls, there are clothes and accessories, books, videos, and a history of her life. The backstories, written in their time periods, can be intriguing. Caroline Abbott’s father has been taken prisoner by the British in the War of 1812. Addy Walker is an escaped slave from 1864 who starts a new life in a new city. The most modern doll, Julie Albright, is a child of divorced parents in 1974 who is fighting to play on the boy’s basketball team and trying to save a family of injured bald eagles, just in time for the Centennial. The American Girl collection also expanded to include modern-day dolls with similar stories, and a line of American Girls in dozens of skin tones as well as eye and hair colors to match just about every single girl in the world.
For 2015, the doll of the year is Grace Thomas, an American girl who has recently learned that she loves baking. After a trip to Paris, detailed in a series of three books, Grace decided she wanted to try her hand at creating a baking business back home. She seems like the perfect doll to bring home today. Along with the limited edition Grace doll, you pick up her doll-size French bulldog, bakery cart, and travel luggage set with passport. The entire French pâtisserie is an addition for another day. And to make sure you child matches, you also grab Grace’s beret and apron in full-size girl versions. There’s nothing more heartwarming than seeing your child smile right alongside her new best friend.